Mentally-controlled prosthetic limbs have reached the point where they’re no longer the stuff of Star Wars, but what if you need more than a robotic hand? Good news. Duke University neuroscientists announced Thursday they’ve developed a wireless brain-machine interface (BMI) that let two monkeys control a wheelchair with their minds.
According to findings published in Scientific Reports, the researchers say the BMI could someday be used to develop similar systems that would allow the paralyzed to become mobile.
The study’s two rhesus macaques had hundreds of “multi-electrode arrays” implanted in their brains, so scientists could record their premotor and sensorimotor cortical neurons — two parts of the brain connected to movement and sensation.
Here’s a chart showing just where the wiring went:
At first scientists only recorded the monkey’s brain activity while they were seated in the wheelchair moving outside of their control. They used those patterns to write an algorithm to control the chair’s movements. Using that system, the monkeys were able to drive the wheelchair toward a randomly placed bowl of fruit using only their thoughts after just a few days of training.
Miguel Nicolelis is the mind behind the Walk Again Project, which aims to develop tech that will use a paralyzed body’s brainwaves to write signals that can control machines.
Their work helped this paraplegic man to kick off the 2014 World Cup in Brazil using a mechanical exoskeleton, operating on a similarly thought-controlled process.
And this isn’t the first time someone’s made a thought-controlled wheelchair. They’ve been around since at least 2009. But those systems relied on external equipment. This new study shows you can get even better results with an implant.